Follow Jim on Twitter
FAIRFAX — Shaka Smart placed both hands on his head. Several feet away Briante Weber stood in the arms of Bradford Burgess, on the verge of tears.
Members of the VCU men’s basketball team carried the look of disbelief. The look of a team that had a crucial game in their grasps, all but won, and then suddenly stripped away at the flick of a wrist.
Across the court diagonally, a slew of George Mason players crashed into the scorer’s table with Sherrod Wright, the hero of the night, somewhere beneath the pile. Seconds earlier Wright hit a mind-blowing desperation three-pointer at the buzzer to complete a wild Patriots’ final minute comeback and seal a 62-61 win over the Rams.
“I still can’t believe it,” said first-year George Mason head coach Paul Hewitt as he trudged into the postgame press conference. “I hope my wife doesn’t read this because this is the best Valentine’s Day I’ve had in a long time.”
It all seemingly happened so fast. From VCU holding a five-point lead with 43 seconds left in the game, to George Mason’s entire bench spread throughout the student section giving high-fives and hugs.
On the other end, the look of disbelief still lingered. As Smart made his way off the court, he turned his head and made drawn-out eye contact with assistant coach Will Wade, who had no words to offer.
“That was a tough pill to swallow,” Smart said. “Don’t quite know what to say about the end of the game.”
VCU had done nearly everything it could at that point. Weber and guard Troy Daniels sunk 7-of-8 free throws in the final minute, but the Patriots still wouldn’t go away. Wright, senior Ryan Pearson and Vertrail Vaughns each connected from deep in the final minute.
For the second straight game, the freshman guard Weber was charged with the task of sealing the game for VCU at the free-throw line. He hit a pair with 43 seconds left to put the Rams up five, two more with 10.8 ticks left to put them ahead by four and finally one more to grab a two-point lead with 3.8 seconds remaining. On the last set of free throws, Weber had the opportunity to give VCU a three-point advantage, which would have lessened the buzzer-beater to a tie, but came up short on the first shot.
Following the game, Burgess, the Rams’ lone senior, was there for a few words of confidence.
“I told him, ‘Don’t worry about missing that free throw, don’t think that it’s all on you because of a missed free throw. It’s a 40-minute game,’” Burgess said.
Weber’s free throws allotted 3.8 seconds for George Mason to inbound the ball and send up a prayer.
It was too much time.
“I was a little nervous,” Smart said. “I wish it was 2.8 or 1.8.”
Wright’s deep dagger sent the Patriot Center into a frenzy and the Rams out of a tie for first place in the Colonial Athletic Association.
In one locker room, celebration of a last-minute comeback capped off with an unforgettable clock-beating shot. In the other, a single message to move forward with.
“Only one message in the locker room,” Smart said. “And that’s ‘Don’t you dare drop your head; no one’s going to feel sorry for you.’”